01. Harlem Bossa Nova
02. New Frontier
04. Luze Blues
05. I Cover The Waterfront
06. 17 Richmond Park
07. The Clan
10. Stella By Starlight
Bass – John Duke
Drums – Leroy Henderson
Piano – Horace Tapscott
Trombone – Lou Blackburn
Trumpet – Freddie Hill
Recorded on January 25 and January 31, 1963 Los Angeles, CA
An unsteady debut recording by a now-obscure quintet
"Jazz Frontier" is the first of two recordings made by the Lou Blackburn/Freddie Hill quintet for the Imperial label. Besides the trombone/trumpet combination of the front line, the quintet includes pianist Horace Tapscott, bassist John Duke, and drummer Leroy Henderson. The album was recorded on January 25, 1963, just two months after the formation of the group in Los Angeles. In a 1964 interview with Down Beat magazine that appeared in the February 13 issue of that year, Blackburn says about the album "It would have have been better if we had waited," expressing his feelings that the group developed more after this initial recording.
In some ways, Blackburn's comment is justified, as the band feels very much like one that is used to working out their ideas in a live setting. Seven of the ten tracks are Blackburn originals, and while each of them is somewhat interesting in some ways, the rather simple arrangements have a feeling of being jam session-style jumping off points for the soloists. Blackburn and Hill prove to be quite technically adept and engaging soloists, both favoring dramatic use of repeated notes, and Horace Tapscott contributes several very good solos as well. For the best of the soloing, check out the second track, "New Frontier" where all three are at the top of their game playing on a fast swing.
Blackburn and Hill shine on a nice ballad version of "I Cover the Waterfront," though even better is their rubato run-through of "Stella by Starlight" to close the album. Another interesting choice of cover tunes is Curtis Fuller's "The Clan." The group captures the excitement of the tune with a very faithful reading, but the two-horn arrangement feels a bit empty compared to the Hubbard/Fuller/Heath arrangement that first appeared on Fuller's 1961 "Soul Trombone" record. Still, "The Clan" is one of the more memorable tunes on the record.
Based on the West Coast, this quintet never received much recognition. "Jazz Frontier" documents the quintet at the start of their collaboration, performing occasionally interesting original material and a few well-chosen covers. Though the soloing is generally strong, the band as a whole sounds like a unit that is still figuring itself out and this record feels very much like a recorded representation of their live act.